When we reported the Arbitration between Waymo and Otto and how all of that related to Uber back in 2017, it wasn’t clear where it was going. A few months later, Uber decided to acquire Otto and pursued a partnership with Volvo as well to work on self-driving vehicles.
What happened next?
According to a recent article by Jeffrey Johnson, an insurance lawyer, the question was, “is Uber stealing self-driving tech?“. Some might say that all of these developments might have been an elaborate plan for Uber to get their hands on very valuable IP to support the development of self-driving cars or trucks. Without a doubt, a niche in the automotive industry is expected to grow significantly in the near future.
The article by Johnson states, “Waymo said that it learned of the alleged theft when it was accidentally cc’d on an email from one of its suppliers. The email included drawings of Uber’s circuit board design for LiDAR technology.” As part of these developments, Uber also got Anthony Levandowski, co-founder of both Waymo and Otto, into their R&D team.
What are they after?
LiDAR is a technology to measure ranges in various ways. The acronym means light detection and ranging when spelled out and is expected to be a key component for the development of autonomous vehicles. Range data and visual feeds are computed and interpreted by a computer which then tells the vehicle what it should do, based on its surroundings and predefined parameters.
Later Uber fired Anthony Levandowski and settled the legal dispute in 2018, but it wouldn’t end there for Levandowski. Alan Ohnsman from Forbes reports that in March 2020, Levandowski was ordered by a court in California to pay $179 Million to Google for violating the terms of his contract and the separation agreement that he held with the company at the time before Waymo was split from Google. If you think it couldn’t get any worse for him, you might be wrong now.
In February, Ian Carlos Campbell from The Verge reported that his “AI Church” named Way of the Future (WOTF) would be closing down as well, and all the funds would be donated. But can Levandowski redeem himself? Fortunately for him, former POTUS Donald Trump, as one of his final acts in office, has pardoned Levandowski, despite the fact that a judge called this the “biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.” reported by Sam Byford for The Verge.
What other developments could Uber benefit from now?
Uber has always had an interesting way to design business models and services. On the one hand, they seemingly tried to revolutionize mobility for their consumers. On the other hand, they gathered an enormous load of driving data from their human drivers for a potential self-driving car project. So the human driver was really just a first step to automate their service for the future.
If you look at other services, like Uber Eats, for instance, you can clearly see why automation and investments in self-driving cars or other autonomous vehicles would make sense. If you take things one step further, beyond food delivery, they could use autonomous trucks just as well to help with logistics around the world. Just to name one example of why this would be a good business, they could clearly help solve the UK’s current logistics problems.
Also interesting: When Self-Driving Cars Decide Who Lives and Who Dies
Those exist only because there are not enough truck drivers left after the Brexit was enforced, and people from other countries suddenly had to leave the country and their jobs. But why isn’t this happening? Like with many things in business and finance, it’s an insurance matter. The Uber Eats insurance requirements for human drivers might not be complicated, but this changes critically as soon as an AI enters the scene.
Flying taxis might not become a common mode of travel anytime soon, but self-driving cars and other types of autonomous vehicles might soon deliver our goods or transport goods from A to B around the globe. This is if they can manage to get proper insurance to cover their plans.
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